The focus of this work is to investigate the genetic mechanisms by which key aspects of tree growth and development are controlled at the molecular level. Our primary goal is to add value to fine hardwood tree species by genetically engineering them to express genes that impart commercially and environmentally beneficial traits.
Research projects include efforts to insert genes that affect the onset of maturation and the production of flowers, insect resistance, and herbicide tolerance, among others. Researchers are also trying to identify genes that regulate the transition from sapwood to heartwood and the formation of figured wood, which is highly valued but rarely occurs in nature. We seek ways to initiate the formation of figured wood and to clonally propagate trees exhibiting figure, and other useful traits, to create higher valued wood products.
Population genetics research seeks to understand the link between genetic relationships and physical distance in the hardwood forest. The role that increased forest fragmentation and harvesting plays in genetic diversity and its effects on variability are important ecological issues.
Tissue Culture research is focused on developing protocols for adventitious shoot regeneration, rooting, micropropation, somatic embryogenesis, genetic transformation, and clonal propagation. These protocols are used to develop disease- or pest-resistance, and induction- or control-of-flowering in fine hardwood species. Species of interest include black walnut, black cherry, butternut, northern red oak, and green, white, pumpkin, and black ash.
This research will allow germplasm improvement, which in turn will lead to improved hardwood tree characteristics. These improvements may include increased resistance or tolerance to disease, insects, and other environmental stressors.